Saturday, May 7, 2016

US troops are back in Yemen aiding the government in the fight against al-Qaeda.

A controlled demolition near Yemen's port city of Aden. AFP.

The United States has sent a small number of troops back to the country of Yemen to help the government there fight al-Qaeda. AFP. There were troops stationed in Yemen before, but they withdrew after the collapse in Yemen's central government and the ongoing civil war between the government and the Houthi rebels. Al-Qaeda's affiliate in the region, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has taken advantage of the chaos and has taken several cities. With the help of these new troops, the Yemeni forces, along with their Arab allies, have taken back the major port city of Mukalla US forces are assisting the Yemeni and Arabs with air-to-air refueling, reconnaissance and planning. The US also has an amphibious assault ship and two destroyers in the general area. The United States has also begun to operate drones out of the al-Anad airbase. These drones, along with conventional airstrikes, have been used against AQAP to great effect. 

My Comment:
I talked about AQAP in Yemen about a month ago. A lot has changed since then. It's almost as the Pentagon saw the same things I was seeing and decided to do something about it. Taking back Mukalla was a major blow to AQAP because the terror group was gaining millions of dollars from the tariffs they collected from the city. It was a given that AQAP would eventually use that money to conduct more terror attacks like the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, France. 

Surprisingly enough it wasn't the Saudis, who have led the war in Yemen, that took back Mukalla. It wasn't even the Yemeni government. It was the junior partner in the war, the United Arab Eremites (UAE). The UAE took back the city at a time where it seemed like nobody else was going to try. For that they should be commended. 

Again, it's important to note how dangerous having AQAP in control of Mukalla was. They were gaining millions of dollars in taxes and tariffs and they would have used that to conduct terror attacks. Even worse, they were on the verge of establishing a mini-state, much like ISIS has done in Iraq, Libya and Syria and how al-Qaeda's other affiliate, al-Nusra, has also done in Syria. 

Once AQAP has a state they can start to do all kinds of terrible things. First, like ISIS, they may start a chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction program. Second, they can start to bring up an entire generation of children under their ideology. Third, they could begin to win the hearts and minds of the locals, radicalizing them even after AQAP is defeated. Finally, they can use the resources they collect to expand and support satellite organizations, like al-Nusra or core al-Qaeda. 

Though all of those things are still possible now, AQAP still holds territory after all, their ambitions in the region have been stymied. If you read the previous post I linked to above, it shows how far AQAP was in creating their own mini-state. Losing their best source of income will cripple the organization and stop plans to win the hearts and minds of the locals with social programs. That, along with the new round of airstrikes and drone attacks may lessen the threat that AQAP presents. 

So why did this happen now? My guess is that the war with the Houthis stabilized a bit. Though the war is still violent, the actual front lines have stabilized. Most of the activity seems to be by the Saudi border, far away from the southern part of Yemen. It's also possible that the United States had intelligence that told them that AQAP was planning something big and they needed to be hit hard soon. Either way this is a positive development. 

As for the war with the Houthis, I hope that our involvement stays minimal. The war is a proxy fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia and we have little interest there. Indeed, our only real interest in Yemen is stopping AQAP. Sure the region would be more stable if the war was stopped, but that really shouldn't be our goal. The Houthis, radical Muslims though they may be, are not really interested in exporting terrorism outside the borders of Yemen (and inside Saudi Arabia). AQAP had global terror ambitions and the sooner they are stopped the better.

Of course the elephant in the room is the fact that their isn't much of a debate about what we are doing in Yemen. I personally don't have a problem with attacking AQAP, but I would expect there to be some kind of debate. Instead it just seems like another country where our forces are fighting a secret war against Islamic terrorism. I understand there is some need for secrecy, but I would like more transparency and public debate about where we send our troops... 

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